LANDLORDS are discriminating against ethnic minority and foreign tenants because of a crackdown on illegal immigrants, a new report has found.

The Home Office’s controversial Right to Rent scheme – which is about to be rolled out in Scotland – has made it harder for black and other people to rent in the private sector, researchers found.

More than half of all landlords said the scheme made it less likely they would consider letting to foreign nationals, said the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI). Some 42 per cent said they were also more reluctant to take on a British tenant without a passport. Nearly one in six UK citizens does not have such a document.

The JCWI report yesterday immediately sparked concerns from the SNP, which has been trying to stop the scheme, currently only under way in England, being expanded in to Scotland.

Stuart McDonald MP, the SNP’s spokesperson for Asylum, Immigration and Border Control, said: “The scheme effectively turns private landlords into de facto immigration officers and will lead to hefty fines or even imprisonment if they do not comply with the cumbersome administrative process.

“The JCWI’s research confirms our concerns that migrants, asylum seekers, and also British citizens have experienced discrimination and indirect racism from landlords. Housing policy is devolved to Holyrood and this should not be allowed to happen without the consent of the Scottish Government.”

Mr McDonald called for the English scheme to be halted until it can be evaluated. This is also the position of the JCWI. Its workers carried out a “mystery shopper” test on landlords.

One would-be British tenant from a minority background but without a passport was turned down by 58 per cent of them. The turndown rate rose to 85 per cent to tenants who were vulnerable, such as asylum seekers.

Landlords can face fines of up to £3,000 – or even be jailed for up to five years – for failing to comply with the legislation.

The Right to Rent scheme requires landlords and agents to check the immigration status of all prospective tenants and refuse a tenancy to irregular migrants.

Saira Grant, chief executive of JCWI, said: “We have been warning for some time that the Right to Rent scheme is failing on all fronts. It treats many groups who need housing unfairly, it is clearly discriminatory, it is putting landlords in an impossible position, and there is no evidence that it is doing anything to tackle irregular immigration.

“Creating a so called ‘hostile environment’ that targets vulnerable men, women and children is bad enough, implementing a scheme that traps and discriminates against British citizens is absurd.

“Expanding the scheme to devolved nations without taking into account the discrimination it causes would be misguided and unjustifiable. It is time to stop the scheme before it does any more damage.”

The law, she said, was prompting landlords who are not prejudiced to choose tenants who feel like a “safer bet” because they hold a British passport or because they “seem British” or their name sounds British, the report shows.

Residential Landlords Association Chairman Alan Ward said: “We share JCWI concerns over document discrimination and these findings reflect issues that the Residential Landlords Association raised right from the start.

“The Government’s own figures show the Right to Rent scheme is not working so maybe it is time to scrap it and think again. With the threat of a jail sentence hanging over landlords if they get it wrong it is hardly surprising that they are being cautious.”

There are more than 400 acceptable documents proving right to rent from within the EU alone and landlords are making risk-based decisions and only accepting documents that they recognise and have confidence in.

The RLA supports landlords by offering immigration and Right to Rent courses which guide them through the complex process – including a section on the Equality Act and how to avoid discrimination.